DNA Test
Solves Mystery
of French Child King

What about Eleazer?

The Story of The Great Pretender

By Crispian Balmer

PARIS, April 19 (Reuters) - One of the great mysteries of European history was resolved on Wednesday after DNA tests revealed that the son of executed French King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette died as a child in prison.

Royalists have argued for 205 years over whether Louis-Charles de France perished in a grim Paris prison or managed to escape the clutches of the French revolution.

Last December the presumed heart of the child king was removed from its resting place to enable scientists to compare its DNA make-up with samples from living and dead members of his family -- including a lock of Marie-Antoinette's hair.

"It is the heart of Louis XVII," said historian Philippe Delorme, announcing the results of the analysis.

"This is a great day for an historian. It is very exciting to put an end to one of the greatest enigmas of French history. To draw a close to a mystery that has given rise to more than 800 books," he told Reuters.

Eight-year-old Louis-Charles de France automatically became King Louis XVII when Louis XVI was guillotined before huge crowds in central Paris at the height of the revolution in 1793.

At the time, the boy was held in the forbidding Temple Prison to prevent any monarchist bid to free him, and was forcibly separated from his mother.

At her subsequent trial, a signed statement from the boy was produced claiming that she had forced him to commit incest. Marie-Antoinette was executed shortly afterwards.

Louis-Charles was treated like a caged animal and was reported dead in 1795 from what is today recognised to have been tuberculosis. An autopsy was carried out on the boy's body at the prison and his heart was removed by the chief doctor.


Reports however quickly spread that the body was not that of Louis XVII and that he had been spirited away alive by sympathisers with another child's body left in his place.

Would-be royal heirs popped up across Europe and some of their descendants still have small retinues of followers today.

Wednesday's news was welcomed by the Bourbon family, which lays claim to the defunct French throne via blood ties dating back to Louis XIV.

"Science has come to the rescue of history," said Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou. "The memory of this young prince, who died aged 10 after terrible suffering, should be a symbol for us of martyred childhood," the Duke told reporters.

The boy's heart changed hands many times and was finally placed in 1975 at the royal crypt in the cathedral of Saint Denis outside Paris, burial place of French kings.

It was ceremonially removed on December 14 by a handful of aristocrats. One fragment was tested by Professor Jean Cassiman of Louvain University in Belgium and another piece by Professor Ernst Brinckmann of Muenster University in Germany.

Scientists from the two laboratories said the DNA fragments were not perfect, but they could determine enough of a pattern to be sure that Marie-Antoinette was the child's mother.

Wednesday's announcement followed recent DNA tests to establish the fate of Russia's Czar Nicholas and his family, who were executed during the Russian revolution.

A Telltale Heart Finds Its Place in History

By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday , April 20, 2000

PARIS, April 19 The fate of Louis XVII of France, a royal heir lost in the blood and flames of revolution, has been one of Europe's most intriguing and enduring historical mysteries, spawning hundreds of books and dozens of pretenders to the French throne for more than two centuries.

The mystery finally ended today: DNA analysis confirmed that the heart of the young king rests in a crystal globe in a basilica in a suburb of Paris. Experts said that the evidence provided by the telltale heart offers scientific proof that Louis-Charles, the son of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, both guillotined during the French Revolution, died shortly thereafter at the age of 10, ending a theoretical two-year reign as Louis XVII.

The announcement by historians and scientists commissioned by the keeper of France's royal relics, ended decades of rumors and suspicion--even in this very republican land--that a Bourbon ruler of France might live to claim the throne. Prince Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, a 26-year-old blue-blood and the closest living relative to Louis-Charles, flew in from Spain for the announcement. He graciously dedicated the discovery to "the memory of an innocent child who was a victim of history."

The heart that reposes at the basilica in St. Denis with other royal remains and relics has always been said to be that of the young king, who died of tuberculosis two years after the execution of his parents at what is now the Place de la Concorde, at the southern end of the Champs Elysees. But there has never been any proof. Over the years, one pretender after another has sprung up to claim that Louis XVII--he technically became king following the death of his father in 1793--was spirited away alive and a body of another child left in his place.

"I knew five respectable people who were convinced they were members of the royal family," said the Duke of Bauffrement, France's custodian of relics and the man who commissioned the DNA investigation. "Three of them were completely crazy, but two were very solid." Some pretenders go back centuries. One, Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, was buried in 1845 in Holland with the epitaph: "Here lies Louis XVII, King of France." DNA analysis later disproved his claim.

The case was another example of how history has become science. Documents can lie, but DNA analysis, properly employed, cannot. DNA, or genetic coding, has been used to discredit a woman who claimed for years that she was Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of Czar Nicholas II, who was executed with his family by Bolshevik gunmen in July 1918. It was also employed recently to show that Thomas Jefferson probably fathered children by a slave. Just today, French authorities said they will use DNA analysis on stamps licked by an anonymous writer of mysterious notes in the death of a young boy 16 years ago.

Scientific identification of the heart of Louis-Charles was no more amazing, however, than the documentary record of its turbulent passage through the last 205 years. Historian Philippe Delorme, who laid out the tale for reporters, called it "a miraculous and almost providential adventure."

After Louis XVI and his queen were guillotined, the new king and his older sister, Marie-Therese, were confined to the dungeon of the Temple prison in Paris. Jailed in solitary darkness in a filthy cell, the boy contracted tuberculosis and died on June 8, 1795, in the arms of his guardian. His death certificate called him "Louis-Charles Capet," his family name.

His physician, Philippe-Jean Pelletan, performed an autopsy the next day. By his own admission in a handwritten document, copies of which were distributed to reporters today, Pelletan secretly took the heart, "wrapped it in a handkerchief and put it in my pocket without being seen." He kept it in a glass case on his bookshelf, originally preserved in alcohol, which later dried up.

In 1810, the heart was stolen by a student, Jean-Henri Tillos, in whom Pelletan had confided, Delorme said. Tillos then contracted tuberculosis and, repenting on his deathbed, told his wife what he had done. She returned the heart to Pelletan, and, in 1828, the dedicated doctor turned it over to the archbishop of Paris.

The prelate kept it until the Revolution of 1830, when citizens again flooded the streets of Paris and raided the archbishop's residence. According to Delorme, a blue-collar worker identified as B. Lescroart knew the story of the heart and tried to protect it from the mob so he could restore it to the Pelletan family. But another revolutionary grabbed the crystal case, a struggle ensued, the case shattered and the heart was lost.

Days later, Lescroart and Pelletan's son returned to the archbishop's residence to search for the heart. They found the crystal shards, and then the heart itself, buried in a pile of sand in the courtyard. Eventually, the heart was presented to a representative of the Bourbon heirs of France, but by this time the Orleans branch of the family had assumed and lost the throne, and France had become a republic. In 1975, the heart was presented to the basilica of St. Denis to lie with other royal relics.

The Duke of Bauffrement, who said he has been trying to authenticate the heart since 1946, instigated the scientific inquiry because "before, it was just my personal opinion."

For the DNA test, five pieces of the organ--four from the heart wall and one from the aorta--were removed in a ceremony at St. Denis in December. The samples were divided and sent to two different labs, one in Belgium, the other in Germany. Scientists there, they explained today, first had to determine whether the mitochondrial DNA could be analyzed, then to make sure it was consistent.

Finally, the scientists explained, they matched it with DNA from presumptive relatives of Louis-Charles, both living and dead. They were given hair samples from Marie-Antoinette and her two sisters, which had been preserved in lockets, while two living descendants of the sisters, Queen Anna of Romania and her brother, Andre of Bourbon-Parma, donated tissue samples for comparison. In fact, science could not entirely solve the mystery. The analysis confirmed only that the heart is that of a relative of Marie-Antoinette and her relatives. As chief scientist Jean-Jacques Cassiman put it: "It is up to historians to determine whether it is [that of] Louis XVII."

There are, however, no other candidates. The heart of Louis-Charles's older brother, who died in 1789, also has been preserved, but scientists say it could not be mistaken for that of the young king because its condition is inconsistent with the turbulent circumstances of his death and his heart's wayward history.


Eleazer Williams claimed to be son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

By Paul Srubas

Green Bay Press-Gazette Sunday, January 09, 2000

This much is clear and true.

A young prince is imprisoned after a bloody revolution. His captors never tell him that his mother and father have been beheaded and that he now is the king of France.

But almost immediately after the apparent Louis XVII, known as the Lost Dauphin, died in a French prison cell at age 10 in 1795, rumors began to fly.

One of them flew all the way to Green Bay. Travel Dauphin Street in Allouez or Lost Dauphin Road in the town of Lawrence, visit the old Lost Dauphin Park or eat at Lost Louie's restaurant in Lawrence, and you will have brushed against this area's link to 18th century French royalty.

Eleazer Williams is the link. A Green Bay pioneer and missionary, Williams' main claim to fame is that he brought the Oneida Indians to Wisconsin from New York. Williams also claimed he was the missing young prince.

But now that link is at risk of being chopped off cleaner than Marie Antoinette's head.

DNA testing, the genetic tool that police have used to solve murder mysteries, is being used in the mystery of the Lost Dauphin.

French historians have what they say is the heart of the boy who died in the prison tower in 1795. And they have locks of hair said to be that of Louis XVII's mother, Marie Antoinette.

European scientists expect to know by February whether a genetic link exists between the two. If it does, that would effectively cut Williams out of the picture.

Rumors survive

The rumors are getting on in years, but don't expect them to go down without a fight. The story of the prince's alleged escape from the Paris prison has only gotten stronger through the years.

After toppling the government, revolutionists imprisoned the royal family in 1792. That included King Louis XVI; his sister, Dame Elizabeth; his wife, Marie Antoinette; and the couple's two children, Madame Royale and young Charles Louis Capet -- the heir apparent, or dauphin, to the throne.

The prisoners were kept in separate cells, and when the king was beheaded July 3, 1793, and Marie Antoinette four months later, none of the other prisoners even knew about it.

The prince was barely fed and was forced to live in squalor. He developed hideous sores and tumors and, eventually, tuberculosis.

At about the time of the royal beheadings, rumors began to circulate that the prince had disappeared, but guards tried to quell them by occasionally bringing the boy into view. It didn't help.

The rumors picked up speed after the prince's guard and tutor, a man with the unlikely name Simon the Shoemaker, quit his job on Jan. 19, 1794.

Some people claim Simon somehow smuggled a deaf and mute boy into the prison, switched him with the prince, and then smuggled the prince out in a laundry basket.

Fueling the fire was the untimely death of a physician brought in to examine the deathly sick prince in May 1795. Some people believed that royalists poisoned the physician to prevent him from revealing that the boy he examined was not the real dauphin.

Simon the Shoemaker eventually died at the guillotine, and his widow swore the story of the smuggled prince was true.

After the imprisoned boy died, he was buried in a church cemetery. But some 20 years later, when Louis XVIII was restored to the throne, people hoping to move the boy's remains to a royal sepulcher found only an empty grave.

Meanwhile, dozens of stories cropped up throughout Europe and the United States in which people claimed to be the missing monarch. Williams' claim was among them.

Williams stakes his claim

One version of the legend has it that royalist sympathizers saved the boy-prince from blood-thirsty revolutionists by spiriting him away to colonial America to be raised by an Indian couple. Williams, who indeed was raised by Indians, claimed to be that boy.

Whatever the truth, his parentage was a bit of a mystery. He was raised by Thomas and Mary Ann Williams, who were Mohawk Indians. They had always claimed he was their fourth-born son, but that wasn't supported by church baptismal records, which included all of the Williams children except Eleazer.

But in the 1850s, well after Williams' claims to the throne were made public, Mary Ann Williams said he had been adopted.

And well after stories were popularized that the dauphin was raised by Indians, Mary Ann Williams went public with an account of how two white men in the late 1790s had secretly brought her and her husband a very sick child to raise.

Whether the story was invented or not, many of Eleazer Williams' contemporaries believed that his physical features were European, not Mohawk, and many believed he bore a striking resemblance to portraits of the French royal ancestry.

And stories began surfacing of people supposedly remembering a fragile "idiot-boy" living among the Indians, blurting out French phrases, suffering from nightmares and suddenly regaining his mind after a swimming accident.

Williams claimed to have no memory of his childhood until about age 13. That, according to Williams, was when he supposedly dived off a high rock into shallow water, knocked himself out and awoke with an entire section of his life missing from his mind.

To cynical modern ears, it all may sound too convenient, too romantic, too ridiculous.

But not to the ears of Williams' contemporaries. The legend brought him notoriety in Green Bay and out East, where he was wined and dined and treated as a celebrity for several years.

"It's called 'living off your story,'" Neville Public Museum director Ann Koski said. "People like that get invited to parties, to weeklong retreats, basically by the rich who wanted to have interesting guests. You don't need to have visible means of support; you live off your story, and he did that for a long time."

Williams' story was convincing enough in his day to bring a representative of French royalty all the way to Green Bay to check it out.

Prince de Joinville stayed at the Astor House, a Green Bay hotel at Mason and Washington streets, in 1841. That much is historically documented.

And he did request -- and receive -- a private audience with Williams.

But whether de Joinville really asked Williams to sign off on all rights to the French throne, as Williams claimed, we have only Williams' word on it.

Williams the 'scoundrel'

"I don't have any doubt that Eleazer Williams was an imposter," said Oneida Tribal historian Loretta Metoxen. "He was a scoundrel."

Williams had grand plans to bring Iroquois Indians from the East to the western plains, to set up a kingdom and place himself at the head of it, Metoxen said.

His bringing the Oneidas to the Green Bay area was as close as he came to realizing that dream, Metoxen said.

Williams came to Green Bay as a missionary for the Episcopal Church.

The U.S. government wanted to clear Oneida Indians from their ancestral land in New York to make way for what was to become the Erie Canal, Metoxen said.

And New York developers wanted them moved so they could sell prime real estate to white settlers.

To the government and Ogden Land Co., Williams, with his knowledge of Indian language and culture, was a natural to lead Oneida members to Wisconsin.

At the bidding of Ogden, Williams negotiated with Menominee Indians for land for the Oneidas in what is now the town of Hobart area of Brown County. And in the early 1820s, he and several hundred Oneidas came and established an Episcopal church, Holy Apostles, which still exists today.

He married a Menominee school girl half his age, mostly because he wanted the several thousand acres of prime riverfront land her father bequeathed to her, Metoxen said. The land, making up about a third of what is now the town of Lawrence, is still known as Williams' Grant Subdivision.

Some years later, Williams left the Green Bay area in disgrace, amid rumors of mishandled missionary funds, and in 1858 died a pauper in the New York area, where he was buried.

But in 1947, his remains were moved to Holy Apostles Church cemetery in Oneida and remain there today.

At the time, he might have been something of a folk hero in parts of Oneida, but that's no longer true, Metoxen said.

Tribal historians regard him as an opportunist who didn't work for the Oneidas' best interests, Metoxen said.

Most local historians don't give much weight to Williams' pretensions to the French crown.

"I think 'legend' is a good word for this whole story," Koski said.

Anthropological studies of Williams' skull, done when his remains were exhumed in 1947, concluded he probably was of Indian descent after all, Koski said. That effectively would scuttle his claims to the throne.

And DNA tests in Europe could prove to be the coup de grace.

What French historians have today, according to a recent New York Times article, is a heart supposedly stolen in 1795 by a physician attending the autopsy of the boy who died in prison.

But the subsequent handling of that evidence was a nightmare for forensic scientists, the Times says. Stored in a glass vial of alcohol, the heart was allowed to dry up when the alcohol evaporated.

It was stolen, returned and stolen again. In 1831, a royalist and a guard scuffled over a crystal urn containing it, and the urn was smashed. The royalist returned later and found the heart in a pile of broken glass.

"It hasn't been preserved under the best circumstances for these sorts of tests, by any means," Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a scientist involved in the DNA testing, told a Times reporter.

But even if tests debunk Williams' claim, no one seems to mind here.

"I don't think it makes one bit of difference," said F. Gordon Parmentier, a Green Bay composer whose opera, The Lost Dauphin, will premiere at the Weidner Center on May 18 and 19. "The story I'm telling is about Eleazer Williams, who claimed to be the Lost Dauphin. Whether he was or not isn't the point. ... I think it makes a good story anyhow."

Don't expect the town of Lawrence to change the name of Lost Dauphin Road or Lost Dauphin Park if Williams' story is scientifically debunked.

"That would ruin the charm," said town chairman Tom Perock, who called the legend "a nice fantasy run."

Nor will Lost Louie's restaurant change its name if DNA testing finds the Lost Dauphin.

"It's pretty much into myth anyway," said co-owner John Nick. "I don't believe it anyway. I think (Williams) was a good talker."

But the legend has been a part of Green Bay's history and, true or not, it will remain a part of that history, Nick said.

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